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Help bring dog-training star Cesar Millan to Winnipeg

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If you own a dog or a television, you've likely heard of the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. He's the star of a National Geographic television show, has several books and even has his own magazine. But his name is on the lips of many Canadians for another reason: his Canadian tour.

Millan's tour in late October and early November will span Canada with one key exception -- Winnipeg.

Jana-Rai Dufault, co-owner of Urban Canine, a dog daycare and obedience resource, wants to change this. London and Hamilton have dates, even though they have "populations significantly lower than that of Winnipeg," says Dufault. So, to lure Millan to our city she started a Facebook campaign. The page is doing well. As of Monday morning, it had shy of 2,000 hits. The goal is 10,000.

Millan's pack is already listening. They have a link to Dufault's page on their tour website.

Sift through some of the Facebook comments and you'll see how loved Millan is by dog owners. They look to him as a canine guru.

The world of canine training is hard to navigate. Different methods exist. Unfortunately, some trainers still tell their clients to hit and yell at their dogs. Owners often feel there's no simple way to get the perfect trainer. I've been contacted several times by readers who hope to find someone able to solve their woes.

Perhaps this is why Millan is so loved. Viewers trust him. They see the results of his methods and efforts unfold before their eyes. Dufault says "we and our clients witness daily the rewards that come from employing his methods and philosophies."

If you listen to Millan, you quickly learn that he values the importance of training dogs the way dogs would approach it. In his recent book, How to Raise the Perfect Dog, he tells the story of the first day he discovered Junior, one of his pit bulls. As Junior was introduced to his now deceased pack leader, Daddy, Junior bowed his head to the older dog. Millan noted that he had been taught good manners by his mother, because Junior had learned to respect his elders.

His story reminded me of a situation I observed last summer. Bella, my dog, had met a new retriever puppy, Rigby. She was a bundle of energy. Because Bella is no longer an adolescent dog, she's disinterested in constant play. Bella corrected her with a non-aggressive growl. Rigby's owner was fearful. She didn't realize Bella had told her puppy to smarten up in canine language. Bella had attempted to teach Rigby manners.

Dogs don't muck about. We humans often take forever to get a point across. Anyone who's been in a supermarket line behind a three-year-old having a tantrum has witnessed this. Human parents negotiate with their toddlers for what seems like hours (to the point where other adults wish they could discipline the kid instead). A dog mother, however, instantly corrects her pup. She offers no treats, no negotiations. Instead, there's just an immediate message: Stop it! The pups learn quickly (and they say humans are the smart ones).

Owners are desperate to understand canine language. Communication is what Millan does best. He is as much a translator as he is a trainer.

Human miscommunication causes canine confusion. It's not uncommon to overhear owners sweetly say things like, "Fido, we don't bark at people; it's not nice." It's no wonder their dogs are confused. As Millan says, being assertive is vital. It's not mean to be firm; dogs need to understand that they've done something which needs correction. They won't learn if we use a tone better suited to a love poem.

That being said, Millan puts owners at ease. He allows you to understand not just how to solve a problem, but why the negative behaviour became an issue. Like other dog experts, he believes there are no problem dogs, only problem owners. Unlike some, however, he doesn't belittle the owners; he simply shows you how to change things.

Energy and body language speak volumes to dogs. Millan trusts their instinct so much that he confesses that he'll bring a dog to meetings so the dog can interpret the human's body language. Canines are a better judge of character than we are. I wish I would have had that advice in my youth; it could have prevented a few disastrous dates.

Millan's favourite message is to remain calm. Winnipeg fans now find this difficult. We're eager to see him live and learn better canine communication.

If you'd like to participate in Dufault's efforts go to Facebook under: Urban Canine's Campaign to Bring Cesar to Winnipeg. Once there, note that you like the page. Blog or tweet to "help create awareness," says Dufault.

For once, this human message is clear: Cesar, come to Winnipeg!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2010 D5

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